The England and Wales Cricket Board last night came under pressure to hand back the cash from its deal with the Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford. The English counties each banked £50,000 following the Stanford Super Series last November, but the Hampshire chairman, Rod Bransgrove, believes it would not be right to keep the money when there is a possibility that thousands of small investors might lose their life savings if Stanford's financial empire crumbles.
Stanford has been charged in connection with an alleged multi-billion dollar investment fraud, which he denies. However, if the 58-year-old Texan is found guilty it would almost certainly prove ruinous for the many investors involved.
Bransgrove said: "There may well be a moral issue in receiving the money. You have to put it in context: thousands of people could be damaged by the actions of this man if the charges are upheld. I don't know whether Hampshire can actually give the money back but, if you're asking whether I feel sullied by receiving it, yes I do." The multi-millionaire businessman called on the game to do something positive about an issue that threatens to stain the sport. "The game will have to address and debate the moral issue," said Bransgrove.
David Harker, the chief executive at Durham, agreed: "It's only speculation at the moment but, if it's proven that the money is ill-gotten gains, then it's not something we'd want to be party to."
The money that went to the counties came as a result of Stanford staging the Stanford Super Series in Antigua, with a $20 million [£14m] winner-takes-all pot going to the triumphant Stanford West Indies All Stars team.
If counties have to give back the money for any reason there is little chance of them suffering any long term financial problems, according to one expert.
Tom Cannon, who is professor of strategic development at Liverpool University, said: "It might be uncomfortable in some quarters, but any effect will not be felt until the medium-to-long term – if at all. It's not going to wash out for a while. As far as I know he [Stanford] is denying the allegations and the US courts take a long time. The amount of money going into the county game is not Premiership football level, but we are still talking about millions and not hundreds of thousands. It is not enough to make this have a big effect."
Prof Cannon believes it will be in the Caribbean, where the investigation into Stanford will have the most profound impact. "Even if the charges fall it will affect his business," said Prof Cannon. "It's bound to have an effect, it will stop people trusting him. Almost inevitably the first effect is going to be felt in the West Indies, and in Antigua. He had a lot of money there."